Feeling anxious or depressed? Try doing random acts of kindness.
A new study shows that performing kind acts can improve mental health and increase social connections. Participants who performed three random acts of kindness per week had greater reductions in depression and anxiety and higher satisfaction with life, compared to those who planned social activities or did thoughts records. Kindness also improved social support, with benefits lasting up to five weeks. Being kind to others can help reduce self-focus in social situations, which is tied to less depression and anxiety. So, let’s get out of our own heads and turn our focus on others – it’s a win-win for mental health and social connection.
As human beings, we all experience moments of anxiety and depression. These emotions can be overwhelming, leaving us feeling helpless and alone. While there are effective treatments for these conditions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the sense of social connection that is essential for a happy and healthy life may not be fully addressed by these treatments. However, a new study suggests that random acts of kindness may be a powerful tool for improving mental health and increasing social connections.
The study, conducted by researchers from The Ohio State University, found that performing acts of kindness can improve mental health symptoms and increase social connections.
Participants with medium levels of depression or anxiety symptoms were randomly assigned to perform three random acts of kindness on two days of the week, plan a social activity on two days of the week, or complete a “thoughts record” for at least two days a week. The group that practiced random acts of kindness had greater reductions in depression and anxiety and higher satisfaction with life, compared to those who planned social activities or did thoughts records.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I can attest to the transformative power of kindness. A few years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult time. I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities and the constant pressure to be perfect. One day, a friend surprised me with a small gift and a note of encouragement. It was a small act of kindness, but it meant the world to me. It reminded me that I was not alone and that someone cared about me. That act of kindness gave me the strength to keep going and to seek the help I needed.
So why does kindness have such a powerful impact on mental health?
According to Jennifer Cheavens, co-author of the study, being kind to others can help reduce self-focus in social situations, which is tied to less depression and anxiety. When we engage in acts of kindness, we shift our focus away from our own problems and onto the needs of others. This can help us feel more connected to the world around us and give us a sense of purpose.
In addition to improving mental health, kindness can also increase social connections. The study found that acts of kindness and social activities both improved people’s sense of social support, but practicing kindness improved it even more, with benefits lasting up to five weeks. When we perform acts of kindness, we create a ripple effect of positivity that can spread to others. This can help us build stronger relationships and deepen our sense of community.
The power of kindness cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to mental health. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to anxiety and depression, incorporating acts of kindness into our daily lives can be a powerful tool for improving our well-being and increasing our sense of social connection. Whether it’s buying a coffee for a stranger in line, baking cookies for a friend, or offering to shovel snow from a neighbor’s driveway, small acts of kindness can have a big impact on our mental health and the world around us.
As we navigate the challenges of life, let us remember the words of the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” By practicing kindness, we can create a more compassionate and connected world for ourselves and others.